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Smoked baby back ribs. An affordable luxury. Tastes like something at a 5-star place, but it's more like what you'd imagine eating under the open sky after a long day of herding cattle. The sun setting in the west, and a cold glass of beer at hand. Juicy, tender, smoky. And did I mention irresistible and highly addictive?
Can you taste these ribs through the screen? If not, you seriously need to fire up your BBQ and make them ASAP. Let's get smoking!
For this recipe, I turned to The Spice Hunter®'s Cowboy BBQ Rub. It's packed with flavors from the chili pepper, garlic, onion, black pepper and a bunch of other carefully chosen spices, and it goes perfectly on ribs. This rub doesn't include salt, which is preferred when you want to control the amount of salt you put on your meat.
It all starts with quality ingredients to end up with the best results.
The spice rub - For these ribs, we're kicking up the flavor with The Spice Hunter®'s Cowboy BBQ Rub, which is a delicious combination of chili pepper, garlic, onion, black pepper, cilantro, cumin, oregano, basil, cinnamon, clove and red pepper.
A Little About The Spice Hunter®
Located in San Luis Obispo, California, just down the highway from where I grew up, The Spice Hunter® is a small company that is as passionate about food as we are. And they care about sourcing quality ingredients that make the difference in our finished dishes.
With a variety of over 150 products — spices, spice blends, rubs, dips and extracts — there's pretty much a Spice Hunter® flavor for every occasion or dish you want to try.
The baby back ribs - When it comes to ribs, it's best to buy the biggest racks you can, as they will have the most meat on them. You are putting in the time and work, so you will be getting the best bang for the buck.
Cut from "high on the hog" closest to the backbone, baby back ribs are shorter and meatier than the "spare ribs" from the side and belly of the animal.
There are 11 to 13 bones per slab, and each slab is usually 2 to 2 ½ pounds. Figure 5 to 6 ribs per person, so a rack will feed 1 to 2 people, depending on sides and how hungry they are.
Kosher salt - We'll use about 1 teaspoon per side of the rack. You can salt ahead of time if you prefer, which will give it time to season all the way through the meat.
Sugar - Optional, but a little sugar will help promote that sought-after bark.
Wood chunks, chips or pellets - Apple and cherry are wonderful for smoking pork, but for these I switched it up and used post oak, which turned out fantastic. Post oak is commonly used for brisket, and it gives a mellower flavor than a lot of other woods.
BBQ sauce - These ribs are delicious with the rub alone, but saucing them before wrapping brings them to another level. Use your favorite or my sweet & tangy version that pairs perfectly with the rub. You can omit the sauce if you prefer to highlight the flavor of the meat, but I like the bark it helps create.
- Give the ribs a good rinse as there can be some stray bone fragments around from when they were butchered.
- Remove the membrane/silver skin. It's important to remove the membrane, which is a tough layer of connective tissue located on the underside of the rack. It won't break down during the cook and will prevent flavors from penetrating the meat from that side. To remove the membrane, slide a butter knife under the membrane about 3 bones in, and use a paper towel to peel it back. Here's a quick video giving a nice demo for how to do it.
- Flip your roasting rack upside-down to stand the ribs up when smoking multiple racks. Sure, they have fancy racks made just for ribs, but the v-rack you already have will work great too.
- Wait until the end to apply the sauce. Adding it too early can cause it to burn.
- Salt/season early to allow the salt to act as a dry brine and penetrate all the way through the meat.
- How to tell when the ribs are done? There are a few ways to tell, and with a little experience, you will be able to tell just by looking. For the bend test, you can pick the rack up in the middle with tongs and it will bend like a bow and will start to break apart. You can also try pulling one of the ribs and it should separate fairly easily.
- Don't slice the ribs until you are ready to serve them as they can dry out.
Equipment and Accessories
- The Spice Hunter® Cowboy BBQ Rub
- Rib rack (not necessary, but helps if you are cooking multiple racks of ribs). You can flip a roasting pan upside down and use that if it fits in your grill.
- Spritz bottle
- Basting brush
- Instant-read thermometer
Sides that Make the Meal
- 1 rack baby back ribs
- 1 Tbsp slather canola oil or mustard (optional)
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 2 tsp sugar
- ¼ cup The Spice Hunter® Cowboy BBQ Rub (see below)
- Wood chunks, chips or pellets (see note)
- ¼ cup spritz (50/50 ratio of apple cider vinegar and water)
- ⅓ cup barbecue sauce plus more for serving
- 3 Tbsp unsalted butter
- Prep the ribs by thoroughly rinsing and then removing the membrane on the backside: Slide the tip of a knife along the bone to loosen the membrane enough to be able to grab it with a paper towel and slowly pull it off.
- Set up your smoker for indirect cooking with a water drip pan in place and preheat to 250° F with your preferred wood (I used post oak).
- Place the ribs in the smoker with the meat side toward the hottest part or vertically in a rib rack.
- After 1 hour, spritz a few times to attract more smoke and keep them moist. Just don't open the lid more often than needed.
- Smoke for about another hour for a firmer, competition-like texture or 2 hours for fall-off-the-bone, tender texture, and until when the color is beautifully browned.
- Transfer the ribs to aluminum foil or butcher paper and brush on barbecue sauce on all sides. Add chunks of butter to the meatier side. Wrap tightly and seal.
- Place the wrapped ribs back in the smoker (or oven) and cook for about 1 hour more. Do the bend test to see if the ribs easily flex and are tender. Then they are finished.
- Remove from the wrap and finish with a little more barbecue sauce and a quick sear on a hot grill or broiler to caramelize the barbecue sauce and finish the bark.
- Rest for about 10 minutes before slicing and serving.
- The recipe is for a single rack of ribs, but it can easily be scaled up (which I would highly recommend).
- You can prep and season the ribs a few hours before or even the night before cooking.
- Use wood chunks for charcoal smokers, chips for gas and pellets for pellet smokers.
- Wrap the ribs when the internal temperature reaches 165° - 170° F. They are finished when the internal temperature is between 190° and 205° F, depending on the texture you are going for.